Privacy concerns have been overblown and government agencies aren't yet convinced of the benefits of big data, according to former human services minster Kim Carr.
Speaking last week at a conference on big data in health, Carr said it was important the political system agreed open government was worth doing.
“There are far too many people deeply suspicious of what big data is all about."
He said while there were legitimate concerns about privacy, enormous protections were already in place and privacy shouldn’t be a blanket stopper to individuals accessing data.
“Public servants need to be constantly reminded and perhaps reassured that government actually wants them to act to open up public information,” he told the audience.
Public servants often assumed ministers would not like something with data implications, without asking the minister for his or her opinion, he said.
“We need to pursue the attitude that data should be sat upon in case someone else is upset about it,” Carr said.
He highlighted the enormous opportunities of big data for government and society.
“What could we do if we were able to prevent the misuse of certain drug therapies? What could we do to improve the human condition if we could identify the failures in the regulatory system more quickly?" he said.
“What could we do if we could have a real grasp of what the points of vulnerability were in this country?”
“We could work out where our health dollars and our education dollars could be better spent. We could uncover the truth in time to prevent the thalidomides, asbestos in roofs and various other tragedies that we’ve seen if we were able to apply these tools more effectively.”
Carr urged the audience to pursue the Federal Opposition for high-level support for open government and big data.
“I had the opportunity to discuss these questions with colleagues from the other side of parliament. Can I assure you they’re actually very supportive. I was very encouraged by that. My advice to you is to pursue that,” he said.
Carr’s comments come after the Australian Government Information Management Office closed the consultation period for its Big Data Strategy issues paper.
The paper was designed to elicit discussion about the use of big data analytics by government.
The agency said in a blog post it had received a large number of responses to the paper, the majority of which were positive and constructive.
The responses will be used to assist the government agency in the development of a big data strategy, a draft of which is expected in May.